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Musk's Twitter take-back wasn't about the background check

Protocol Policy

Hello, and welcome to Protocol Policy! Today, we’re talking about Elon’s Twitter takeover takeback. Plus, a deep dive into the first year of Meta’s civil rights team, and new antitrust trouble for Apple in Europe.

How Elon sees it

Elon Musk isn’t joining Twitter’s board anymore, and everyone thinks they know why.

Maybe it was Musk’s Saturday morning tweet-a-thon that suggested Twitter was “dying” and that its office should be turned into a homeless shelter. Or maybe those tweets were part of Musk’s scorched Earth campaign after he turned down the seat, also on Saturday morning. Twitter isn’t saying which came first.

Maybe, some asserted, it was the background check Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal referred to in his announcement about Musk’s change of heart. Twitter told Protocol the background check was not an issue. But that won’t stop Musk’s critics from believing it anyway, since they thought all along he was unfit for the job.

Maybe it was the backlash from Twitter employees. Maybe it was the SEC. It’s still unclear who’s right.

What is clear, though, is how Musk wants the world to see his Twitter takeover takeback: as a battle over free speech.

The only indication so far of what drove Musk’s decision is, fittingly, a tweet he liked Monday morning that reads: “Let me break this down for you: Elon became largest shareholder for Free Speech. Elon was told to play nice and not speak freely.” He also liked another suggesting his idea about the homeless shelter was the source of the split.

  • I know, I know. RTs and likes aren’t endorsements, yada yada. But don’t forget, Musk juiced the news about his Twitter stake by first calling the company out for “failing to adhere to free speech principles.” The better to cast himself as free speech’s savior.
  • It couldn’t have sat well with Musk — or his fans — that after all that, as a board member, Musk would have to watch his words and was being asked to placate the company’s employees during a scheduled town hall that's now been canceled.

Keeping Musk in check did seem to be part of the board’s interest in offering him a seat in the first place.

  • In his note announcing the reversal Sunday night, Agrawal said the board “believed that having Elon as a fiduciary of the company where he, like all board members, has to act in the best interest of our company, and all our shareholders, was the best path forward.”
  • Twitter employees didn’t really buy it and worried what Musk’s free speech stance would mean for their efforts to keep the platform safe for users.
  • Now, those employees are openly expressing relief. “I’ve kept quiet since the announcement because I wanted to give Twitter leadership a chance to do right by it’s [sic] employees, and they did. Thank you,” Twitter’s director of Machine Learning Ethics, Rumman Chowdhury, tweeted Monday.

But Twitter’s Musk misery may have only just begun. While he deleted his weekend tirade, it seems certain this won’t be the last Musk says on the matter, and there will be little Twitter can do to stop him. Indeed, an SEC filing from Saturday explicitly states that Musk may “express his views” about Twitter “through social media or other channels.”

Musk didn’t acquire so much of Twitter because of its middling financials. He did it to prove a point, a point that has now become all the more personal. Musk now will be free to act a fool — and buy even more of the company while he’s at it.

— Issie Lapowsky (email | twitter)

In Washington

The Treasury Department made clear that internet communications are not subject to sanctions against Russia. Human rights advocates had warned earlier that financial punishments should not stop the free flow of information that can undermine Putin’s propaganda and misinformation about the war in Ukraine.

FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said she’s tested positive for COVID-19, and so far it’s been “mild.” Amid a new increase in cases and a highly contagious subvariant, D.C. luminaries and high-ranking Democrats — including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo — have been coming down with the virus. Some, though not all, of the cases appear to be linked to last week’s annual Gridiron Dinner for A-listers.

In the states

More than 150 crypto bills have been introduced in 40 states and Puerto Rico this year, many of them pushed by the industry itself. The New York Times spotted one bill, in particular, that adopted language verbatim from a crypto lobbyist.


The last two years have seen deep, significant changes to the world of work. The COVID-19 pandemic has shifted business leaders’ focus from maintaining their bottom line to the front line. Employee experience has become more important than ever to keep good workers happy – and to keep them within a business.

Learn more

In the courts

Google is suing an alleged scammer who used pictures of “adorable puppies,” especially basset hounds, to lure in would-be dog parents. The scammer appears to have targeted older Americans, using fake websites to collect payments for pets that people would never receive.

On Protocol

One year in, Meta’s civil rights team still has a lot to prove. The team, led by former DOJ official Roy Austin Jr., has made some initial progress, including announcing plans to study Facebook’s impact on users of different races. But civil rights leaders want a guarantee Meta won’t just bury the findings.

Amazon is trying to get the Staten Island labor vote overturnedby accusing the Amazon Labor Union of coercing workers into voting for the union and charging the National Labor Relations Board itself with "interfer[ing] with employee free choice." The claims came as part of an Amazon filing with the NLRB.

Coming soon: It’s been almost six months since Congress passed the landmark $1 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. What progress toward those goals have we seen so far — and what can we expect in the next six months? On April 21 at 9 a.m. PT/noon ET, we’ll explore how the infrastructure bill rollout is going and what it means for you. Join Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky in conversation with Alan Davidson, assistant secretary for Communications and Information at the U.S. Department of Commerce; Nicol Turner Lee, senior fellow and director of the Center for Technology Innovation at Brookings Institution; and Angela Siefer, executive director at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. RSVP here.

Around the world

Top officials at the European Commission were the targets of Israeli spyware last year. The commission learned about the plot after Apple sent messages to thousands of users in Europe alerting them they were "targeted by state-sponsored attackers."

Chinese state media is boosting Russia’s messaging about the war in Ukraine, including repeating Russian claims that images of civilian casualties in Bucha were a hoax.

Apple may soon get hit with another antitrust charge in the EU. The charge is related to Apple’s ongoing dispute with Spotify over Apple’s control of the music streaming industry, according to Reuters.

In the media, culture and metaverse

Amazon’s drone delivery service has suffered a series of setbacks, including one crash that caused a brush fire. A Bloomberg investigation found these safety risks and other issues have thwarted the program, which has cost the company $2 billion and is staffed by a team of more than 1,000 people.

China has distributed its first round of video game licenses in almost a year, after the government implemented time limits for children and unveiled stricter content standards, according to Bloomberg. A total of 45 video games won approval, but Tencent was notably absent from the list.

In data

74%: That’s how many cryptocurrency investors said they wanted more information on how taxes work from the exchange they use, according to a Wakefield Research survey commissioned by CoinTracker.


Businesses are placing more priority on ensuring there are clear lines of communication for frontline workers to raise issues — something that’s vital given 43% of employees told McKinsey one of their fears about remote work was a reduction in collaboration with colleagues.

Learn more

If you can’t beat ‘em…

Nothing so far seems to have convinced Congress to pass federal privacy legislation. Maybe some good-natured blackmail will? During Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight,” John Oliver dove deep into the world of data brokers. And we do mean deep: Oliver said his staff had amassed data on “men, age 45 and up, in a five-mile radius of the U.S. Capitol” and targeted them with ads that read, among other things, “Ted Cruz erotic fan fiction,” to see who’d click.

“If you happen to be a legislator who is feeling a little nervous right now about whether your information is in this envelope,” Oliver said, “you might want to channel that worry into making sure that I can’t do anything.”

Thanks for reading — see you Wednesday!

Update: The top item was updated to reflect that Elon Musk's meeting with Twitter employees was canceled.

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